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Chapter 9 : Guilty
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Hermione spent most of the night thinking about Ron, and a little part also guiltily reliving her kiss Draco. She had been sleeping wonderfully ever since that night where he had simply held her. She had never slept like that before. Perhaps it was because that she had always been worried - when she was eleven, starting at Hogwarts, worried about not fitting in. When she was thirteen, worried about not being the best in her year. On the Horcrux hunt, worried about not finding them, worried about everything really. And then in the aftermath of the Final Battle, the inconsequential worries of Ron not loving her, of Ron not proposing... And then, thought Hermione, punching her pillow into a more comfortable position, then worrying that her children might not fit in at Hogwarts... Always worrying, always...
Ron had never made her feel safe, not really; they both had inferiority problems, and they both fought to keep them away, thus creating competition. He could not make her feel safe if he was trying to show her that he was a winner of their little game, nor could she. Draco didn't care about winning or losing, he didn't care about her earning more money, or about her being the better cook. There was something very protective in his way of talking to her and holding her, and Hermione needed to feel protected - why couldn't Ron just understand that?
She turned over, restless, and her eyes were drawn to all the posters he had stuck on his wall as a kid. The Chudley Cannons... Quidditch, always Quidditch... What did they have in common? A dusty Skiving Snackbox was lying, forgotten, in a shadowy corner... He had always wanted the easy way out, afraid to fight for what actually deserved to be fought for... Just like their marriage... He was too much of a coward to face facts and realise that they had problems - too much of a coward to actually tackle them head-on... Instead, Brazil was the solution...
Draco was by no means a perfect man, he had easily proven this through his own cowardice during the War... He was arrogant and prejudiced, and he seemed to find joy in annoying people, but all those were trivial problems... They did not matter... What mattered was that he protected those he cared for... Those he loved... Me, thought Hermione silently, and her heart beated in a strange, fast way...
Polly's owl woke her up the next morning. Its beak was tapping against Ron's window. Yawning, Hermione stood up, pulled on her cardigan, and took the letter. The owl did not take off, but stood patiently, having clearly been given instructions to wait for a reply. Hermione rubbed her eyes, tired after a night filled with thoughts and little sleep, and read Polly's short note:
Hope you're having a good holiday. Percy Weasley has given you and Mr Malfoy permission to re-open and re-claim Malfoy Manor. Papers waiting for you at the office.
Hermione let out a shout of happiness and punched the air with joy; a large and expensive Manor was in Draco's favour. He could either sell it, in which case the large sum of fortune would convince the Wizengamot that he would be a most eligible parent, financially at least; or he could make some kind of deal with Henrietta, in which the creepy estate played a part.
Rose had opened the door cautiously, having heard her mother shout.
'Darling, you haven't got any socks on, you must be freezing,' said Hermione, smiling widely, and pulling her daughter into her room.
'It's summer, Mum,' Rose said, exasperated.
'Really?' Hermione nodded out the window - it was raining heavily and a cool breeze was bothering Polly's owl. 'Oh - hold on -'
She quickly scribbled a reply to Polly, telling her that she would be in later today. Rose read the note over her mother's shoulder.
'But we were supposed to stay till Friday!' she exclaimed, disappointed, as she watched the owl fly towards the rising sun. Hermione made her daughter sit down on the bed, then opened a drawer and picked up a pair of mismatching socks.
'You're staying, darling, I just need a quick word with Healer Malfoy to drop off the key - he's probably got to get a shifty of his old house before the hearing - time does fly, sweetheart,' she added, as she pulled the socks over her daughter's cold toes. The socks were too large and Rose adjusted them thoughtfully.
'You're not... in love with Healer Malfoy, are you?' she said quietly, blushing. Hermione forced a laugh, kissing her daughter's cheek and smoothing her bushy red hair out of her eyes.
'Hardly, darling. You know I love Dad.'
Rose jumped down from the bed, stumbling a little in her mother's socks.
'I'm going to get some cereal. Are you coming?'
Beaming, Hermione nodded. She thought that the happiness stirring in the pit of her stomach might have something to do with the fact that she would see Draco later that day.
The Family Law offices had almost been empty when Hermione had picked up Malfoy's file; clearly, everybody was on holiday. Polly had left the key to Malfoy Manor on her desk, and Hermione had carefully stowed it in her pocket before Apparating to his flat. As she rang the doorbell, she couldn't help remembering the last time she had been here and both grinned and blushed a little at the memory.
'Granger!' said Malfoy, surprised, as he opened the door. He narrowed his eyes warily. 'You're not here to slap me again, are you?'
'No,' answered Hermione pointedly. 'Where's Scorpius?'
'With his mother.'
'Ah.' Hermione paused. Perhaps that was why Malfoy hadn't been too keen on her going - he would be all alone while his son left for his own holiday. 'Well, I've got a surprise for you.'
He crossed his arms, looking expectant. Hermione nodded, beaming. She held up the key to Malfoy Manor. His brow furrowed as he realised what it was.
'Well done, Granger, I see you've managed to persuade the Ministry to hand back Malfoy property.'
'Clever of me, isn't it? Here -'
She held out the key and dropped it in his outstretched hand. He sighed.
'I've got to admit, I almost hoped that you wouldn't manage.'
Hermione smiled understandingly. She drank in the sight of him as he turned the large, silver key in his hands, relishing the moment; the things she was feeling right now forced her to acknowledge that she had missed him.
'Well,' she said, trying unsuccessfully to look away. You promised... 'Maybe you want to take a look at it before trying to persuade Henrietta to take it? Send me an owl when you've been there.'
She had almost turned around when his voice stopped her.
'Can you come with me?'
'What?' She turned back to face him, confused.
'Can you come with me, Granger? I don't fancy going there alone.'
'I - I -'
She hesitated. She wasn't exactly afraid of going to Malfoy Manor, but the place held nothing but bad memories for her, the place where the scars on her forearm had not been scars, but fresh wounds... And yet, she would willingly seize any possibility of being with Malfoy - his simple presence was enough to make her happy the rest of the day.
After having got a jacket and put on a pair of shoes, Malfoy and Hermione Apparated to the place which had so often haunted her dreams. But she wasn't with Fenrir Greyback this time, or a swollen-headed Harry, or a frightened Ron, but with Draco. It was still raining heavily and it almost seemed surreal to be standing here, with him of all people.
The estate looked shabbier than he remembered it. There were no longer any peacocks flanking the gates, as his father had once ordered there to be, but a sign had been hung up. Draco leaned forwards to read it.
MAY THE MEMBERS OF THE FAMILY WHO ONCE CALLED THIS HOME NOW LIVE IN SHAME
No sooner had Draco finished reading than Hermione had taken out her wand and waved it; before he could do anything else than flinch in surprise, the sign had torn itself in two and now lay at his feet, getting progressively soggier in the rain.
'I'm having a word with the Magical Law Enforcement,' he heard Hermione mutter angrily. Draco laughed bitterly.
'I never called this place home,' he said, and he saw her smile grimly.
He opened the gate and led her down the narrow path leading to the great house. Vines, which had once been carefully pruned and gardened, had now crept up the walls and the painting had peeled off some places, causing a terribly shabby effect. Hermione was almost relieved at this sight - it was much easier to sneer at it now that it was no longer very creepy. Her heart filled with affection for Malfoy when she saw that his hands were slightly shaking as he withdrew the key from his pocket; perhaps he was as afraid as she at reliving unpleasant memories.
Draco eyed her carefully as he turned the key in the lock. He was worried that this place might be as haunting to her as it was to him, but she revealed no sign of unease. Indeed, she looked almost beautiful, standing there in the weak sunlight, her eyes curiously sparkling. She was wearing a pair of faded jeans and her old cardigan. Her long hair, usually so bushy, was wet and slick from the rain. He fumbled with the key, slightly mesmerised by her, but managed to open the door and they hurried inside, drenched in water. She doesn't want you, he said to himself firmly. She's married...
The hall was utterly dark. All the curtains were drawn, blocking out the little sunlight this day had to offer. He heard a sharp intake of breath and was worried that Hermione might finally be feeling uneasy, and though he couldn't see anything, he grabbed her hand to comfort her.
His hand was warm against hers and her heart skipped a beat. This was what she had been thinking about all night, this instinct Draco had of protecting her, making sure she felt safe at all times...
A pleasant feeling of satisfaction curled itself in Draco's stomach as Hermione entwined his fingers with hers. He searched his pocket for his wand, but Hermione's voice suddenly stopped him.
'Don't say Lumos,' she whispered, and he felt her very close to him. Her voice was strangely suppressed with emotion.
'Why?' he asked, and for some reason he lowered his voice too.
'Because I don't want to look at you when I do this.'
He couldn't see her, but he felt her put her arms around his neck, her hands playing with his wet hair, goosebumps arising at her touch; then suddenly she was kissing him, and the wonder and wierdness of it all only made her more alluring. They only broke the kiss for air, and Draco felt almost giddy, but quickly pulled himself together.
'If this,' he whispered, still holding her, his arms around her waist and his face inches from hers, 'if this is something to do with Ron, then I -'
'It's nothing to do with Ron,' she answered breathlessly, and though he couldn't see her, he knew she meant it. She was shivering slightly, perhaps because her clothes were wet, or perhaps simply because that was the best kiss they had ever shared. 'It's only about you and me.'
The words echoed in his mind. You and me.... She couldn't have any idea how much they meant to him, how he had longed for her to say them, and happiness such as he had never felt before overcame him. He kissed her again, his strong hold lifting her a few inches from the ground, ecstasy spreading to the tips of his toes.
He smiled when they broke the kiss for the second time, and so did she; he whispered Lumos and he was finally able to see her face. He was relieved to see that she was looking guilt-free and more happy than he had ever seen her. Still staring at her, their eyes exchanging silent, wondrous messages, he took her hand, and together, they did a tour of the house, their own joy eliminating any bad memories the place had once caused them.
Hermione only had trouble with the living room; it was the only place that brought back very vivid flashbacks, and though Draco's warm hand kept her firmly in reality, she agreed whole-heartedly with him when he told her of his wish not to linger. They decided that the place needed a thorough clean-out if it were to be sold or given to Henrietta, and Draco promised to hire someone as soon as possible.
They locked the door behind them and ran out into the rain, carelessly thinking that their happiness would last. Draco had generously given up his jacket, which Hermione had thrown over their heads, not remembering, or perhaps not caring, that they could have cast charms. They had almost reached the gate when Draco suddenly stopped running and simply stood there - it took Hermione a few seconds to realise that he was no longer following her, and she turned around. His clothes, which he had dried with a spell in the Manor, were now getting increasingly wetter, and Draco's jacket did not offer much protection for hers, either.
'What's the matter?' she shouted, as thunder roared loudly over them.
'Will it be all over when we cross that gate?' he yelled back.
'What are you talking about?'
Hermione took a few steps towards him. Large raindrops were splashing heavily on his face, but he didn't seem to care.
'I don't want it to end,' he said in a lower voice now Hermione was closer. 'You know me better than anyone.'
Hermione lowered his jacket - it had no use anymore; it was soaked. Draco gulped, raising a hand to his forehead and sweeping back his wet hair. Hermione eyed him, her heart beating oddly fast, her face flushed and warm in spite of the coldness of the rain.
'I think you know that I'm in love with you,' he finally said, and there was just enough fear in his voice for Hermione to grasp how vulnerable he must feel in that moment.
She looked down at her feet, not knowing what to do, what to say. Looking back up, she pushed her own stray strands of hair out of her eyes and grasped both of his hands, placing them on her neck on which lay the scar Bellatrix had inflicted.
'Scars that won't go away,' she said to him, as she looked fiercely into his grey eyes. 'Hearts that understand eachother. Of course I know it, Draco.'
She had finally said it, she had finally said his name, and it was this, perhaps, more than anything else that finally convinced him that she felt as he did. It was difficult to understand, as her wet lips came crashing on his for the third time that rainy afternoon, as she put an arm around his waist and ran with him back towards the gate, that they had come all this way... that they were actually still going somewhere.
Hermione and Draco Disapparated together, back to his empty appartment. They Apparated just outside the building and, laughing and smiling at eachother, unable to stop holding hands or looking at one another, they ran up the flight of stairs. When they reached the top, Draco stopped, put his arms around Hermione's waist and raised a hand to her face. He stroked her cheek softly, then reeled her in and kissed her. Hermione drew back, breathless.
'It feels so good to know that you want that too,' he said. Hermione smiled lazily.
'No sane woman wouldn't.'
He smiled back at her and took her hand once more and, laughing for no reason, they ran into the hallway, at the end of which was the door to his appartment.
And there he was, standing there in a very simple way that made Hermione wonder whether she was dreaming or if it were somehow true that Ron Weasley was waiting for her outside Draco's appartment.
A/N: Unfortunately, this story is coming to its end. There is only one more chapter left. I've written two endings, and the one that I prefer will be the submitted as the last chapter. If, however, you would like me to post the alternate ending and a few other chapters which I had to cut/edit, please tell me so now.
Since I wrote this story, news about Draco's wife have been revealed - apparently, he married someone called Asteria Greengrass, whom I think suspect is a pureblood. That really can't be included in the story; perhaps I would have found a way had she been half-blood, but as it is, I prefer to keep Henrietta as Scorpius' mother.
I have been thinking about writing a sequel (I have written a first chapter and it seems promising) in which Asteria makes an appearance. I am not sure, however, if I will be publishing the sequel or whether I'd like to start something else other than Draco/Hermione. If the demand is great, however, I'll probably attempt to write one, so please let me know!
Thank you again for the fantastic feedback I have got from so many of you. Till next time.
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